By Ted Gioia

The basic plot could hardly be more familiar.  A woman needs
to decide between the dashing and exciting ‘bad boy’ or settle
for the safe but unexciting ‘nice guy’. Novelists have exhausted
almost every twist in this scenario, and adapted the story line
over the decades in response to changing tastes and values
of their readers. Sometimes the alluring cad turns out to have
a heart of gold (
Pride and Prejudice) or the respectable, safe
husband possesses an ugly dark
side (
Middlemarch).  Sometimes
the young lady stumbles into the
right choice (
Emma) or boldly
rushes into the wrong one (
Portrait of a Lady
).  Or learns, to
her dismay, that the choice is no
longer hers to make (
Gone with
the Wind

But just when you thought that no
further variations could be made on
this theme, Brazilian novelist Jorge
Amado offers a new take on the
bride’s dilemma.  As one might
guess from the title of his novel,
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands,
Amado’s protagonist doesn’t need to
choose between these two options—she can have both at the
same time.  

There is a slight complication, however.  One of her two
husbands—the most lively and passionate one—happens to
be dead.   

Vadinho, the ghost husband explains the ground rules: “I came
back from the beyond and here you have me. To bring you joy,
suffering and pleasure…to stir up your longing and provoke
your desire, hidden in the depths of your being, your modesty.
He [the other spouse Teodoro] is the husband of Madame
Dona Flor, who protects your virtue, your honor, your respect
among people….To be happy you need both of us.”  

The novel opens with the sudden death of Vadinho, who
collapses in the midst of Carnival celebrations.  He is dressed
as a Bahian woman and dancing a samba in the streets
when his heart gives out—a surprise to his friends, who never
detected the slightest signs of frailty or illness in their fun-
loving companion.  This scamp had spent his entire life as if
every day were Mardi Gras.  His gambling carousing and
drinking were legendary, and in the aftermath of Vadinho’s
death, an anonymous poem circulates among the literati of
Bahia praising the Rabelaisian excesses of this indefatigable
man about town.   

The women of the neighborhood have a different view of
matters. They roundly criticized Vadinho during his life for his
lowlife ways, and believe that his widow Dona Flor has the right
to celebrate the departure of her two-timing spouse, who had
constantly sponged money off his wife, the owner of a successful
school of Bahian cooking, to support his late night antics.   

Dona Flora certainly suffered at her husband’s hands.  His
gambling, his infidelities, his spendthrift ways and incessant
demands for money had been a constant cause of anxiety and
sleepless nights throughout their married life.  Yet even after
Vadinho's death, he remains the passionate love of her life,
and she can’t help recalling his charm and seductiveness.  Even
at his worst, Vadinho was irresistible, and his now permanent
absence is far more painful than those late nights when she
waited for the sound of footsteps that indicated her husband’s
return home from his various indiscretions.  

Vadinho has some of the same appeal for readers as he does
for Dona Flor.  He is the vibrant centerpiece of Amado's novel,
and the book’s most compelling interludes capture the
extravagance of his exploits and bravado, both during his life
and after his untimely death.  Although we live in an age of
antiheroes, few stories have done a better job of capturing the
type of the lovable villain, the charismatic scoundrel.  

After a year of mourning, Dona Flor finds that she has
attracted another suitor, the successful local pharmacist Teodoro,
a pillar of respectability and virtuous behavior.  The widow, urged
by her friends not to let such a choice catch get away, accepts
his proposal.  If her new husband lacks the animal magnetism of
her previous spouse, he makes up for it by providing an orderly,
stable and worry-free life for his wife.  What more could Dona
Flor ask for?

Yet on the first anniversary of Dona Flor’s marriage to her second
husband, Vadinho returns.  He’s now a ghost, but has lost none
of his charm—nor his wily ways.  His antics create commotion all
over town, from Dona Flor’s conjugal bed to the local gambling
spots.   She is torn between her attraction to the lusty poltergeist
and her desire to continue as the upright, faithful wife of the
pharmacist—who hasn't figured out that he has a phantom rival
under his own roof.

Amado is equally indecisive, for much of this book.  On several
occasions our novelist seems poised on the brink of turning
Teodoro into a comic figure.  The pharmacist's methodical life-
style borders on obsessive-compulsive disorder, and his favorite
hobby, playing the bassoon, is clearly meant to strike readers as
a wee bit ridiculous.  But Amado again and again holds back,
and finally lets our deceived second husband retain a small dose
of dignity.  

But will Dona Flor do the same?  In the closing pages of this
novel a veritable war breaks out, both in the innermost reaches
of her heart, but also in the mythological world of candomblé,
the Afro-Brazilian belief system akin to Haitian Vodou and
Cuban Santería.  Throughout this novel, Amado has drawn on
local rituals and folklore, bringing them into play as dramatic
undercurrents to his tale.  But in the final section of
Dona Flor
and Her Two Husbands
, the whole panoply of local spirits and
deities get into the act, as well as most of the soothsayers and
mystics of Bahia. You couldn't ask for a grander conclusion to
this tale.

The religious syncretism of modern Brazil, a key theme in
Amado's work, is matched here by a bold literary syncretism,
in which different genres and writing styles blend together in
pleasing new hybrids.  You may have come to expect elements
of magical realism in modern South American novels, but note
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands was published a year
before Gabriel García Márquez released his influential
Hundred Years of Solitude.  And Amado's novel could just as
easily be classified as a romance, or ghost story, or comedy
of manners.  Others will be drawn to this book because of its
local color, with recipes, folklore, and other bits of Bahian
culture—indeed, some well known Brazilian musicians (João
Gilberto, Amado’s real life friend Dorival Caymmi) make
cameo appearances in our story. But these different elements
never clash, and the wonder of Amado's novel is the ease with
which he blends the various ingredients, adding in his dark
magic and light humor with the same ease that Dona Flor
prepares her spicy Bahian cuisine. It’s a formidable concoction,
and a good place to start for readers wondering why Latin
American fiction gained such widespread popularity around the
world in the years following this novel’s publication.
The Year
(click here)
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
by Jorge Amado
Click on image to purchase
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
Welcome to my year of magical
reading.  Each week during the
course of 2012,  I will explore an
important work of fiction that
incorporates elements of magic,
fantasy or the surreal.  My choices
will cross conventional boundary
lines of genre, style and historical
period—indeed, one of my intentions
in this project is to show how the
conventional labels applied to these
works have become constraining,
deadening and misleading.

In its earliest days, storytelling almost
always partook of the magical. Only
in recent years have we segregated
works arising from this venerable
tradition into publishing industry
categories such as "magical realism"
or "paranormal" or "fantasy" or some
other 'genre' pigeonhole. These
labels are not without their value, but
too often they have blinded us to the
rich and multidimensional heritage
beyond category that these works

This larger heritage is mimicked in
our individual lives: most of us first
experienced the joys of narrative
fiction through stories of myth and
magic, the fanciful and
phantasmagorical; but only a very
few retain into adulthood this sense
of the kind of enchantment possible
only through storytelling.  As such,
revisiting this stream of fiction from a
mature, literate perspective both
broadens our horizons and allows us
to recapture some of that magic in
our imaginative lives.

The Year of Magical Reading:

Week 1:
Midnight's Children by
Salman Rushdie

Week 2:  The House of the Spirits by
Isabel Allende

Week 3:  The Witches of Eastwick
John Updike

Week 4:  Magic for Beginners by
Kelly Link

Week 5:  The Tin Drum by Günter

Week 6:  The Golden Ass by

Week 7:  The Tiger's Wife by Téa

Week 8:  One Hundred Years of
Solitude  by Gabriel García Márquez

Week 9:  The Book of Laughter and
Forgetting by Milan Kundera

Week 10: Gargantua and Pantagruel
François Rabelais

Week 11: The Famished Road by
Ben Okri

Week 12: Like Water for Chocolate
Laura Esquivel

Week 13: Winter's Tale by Mark

Week 14: Dhalgren by Samuel R.

Week 15:  Johnathan Strange & Mr.
Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Week 16:  The Master and
Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Week 17:  Dangerous Laughter by
Steven Millhauser

Week 18:  Conjure Wife by Fritz

Week 19:  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Week 20:  The Hobbit by J.R.R.

Week 21:  Aura by Carlos Fuentes

Week 22:  Dr. Faustus by Thomas

Week 23:  Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Week 24:  Little, Big by John Crowley

Week 25:  The White Hotel by D.M.

Week 26:  Neverwhere by Neil

Week 27:  Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Week 28:  Fifth Business by
Robertson Davies

Week 29:  The Kingdom of This
World by Alejo Carpentier

Week 30:  The Bear Comes Home
by R
afi Zabor

Week 31:  The Color of Magic by
Terry Pratchett

Week 32:  Ficciones by Jorge Luis

Week 33:  Beloved by Toni Morrison

Week 34:  Dona Flor and Her Two
Husbands by Jorge Amado

Week 35:  Hard-Boiled Wonderland
and the End of the World by Haruki

Week 36:  What Dreams May Come
by Richard Matheson

Week 37:  Practical Magic by Alice

Week 38:  Blindess by José

Week 39:  The Fortress of Solitude
by J
onathan Lethem

Week 40:  The Magicians by Lev

Week 41:  Suddenly, A Knock at the
Door by Etgar Keret

Week 42:  Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Week 43:  The Obscene Bird of
NIght by José Donoso

Week 44:  The Fifty Year Sword by
Mark Z. Danielewski

Week 45:  Gulliver's Travels by
Jonathan Swift

Week 46:  Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Week 47:  The End of the Affair by
Graham Greene

Week 48:  The Chronicles of Narnia
by C
.S. Lewis

Week 49:  Hieroglyphic Tales by
Horace Walpole

Week 50:  The View from the
Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier

Week 51:  Gods Without Men by
Hari Kunzru

Week 52:  At Swim-Two-Birds by
Flann O'Brien
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites
The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

SF Site
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog

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